ALL ABOUT YOU-KNOW-WHAT
This week’s edition is, unavoidably, concerned largely with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic – and what it means for our good city.
But aside from the latest reactions and the movements of key London organisations (as well as, naturally, the postponement of the 7 May elections), we also bring you the latest planning news, a bit on transport policy, and the ghost of the Garden Bridge that never was.
Meanwhile, like many others and following the latest Government guidance, the LCA team has opted to work from home for the foreseeable future. We are adjusting to this new reality and our diligent back office team has been working away methodically to enable every single one of us to do so, including our dedicated Design and Research functions.
Indeed, as of Monday afternoon, all 50 of us have been working from home and we've barely skipped a beat in the process, supporting our clients as they also adapt to the new situation and in many cases, pivot to digital communications and engagement strategies as quickly as possible, so that business (not quite as usual) can resume.
We hope all of you are keeping well, adjusting to life under extraordinary circumstances and finding some comfort in the virtual connections we can all make with colleagues, friends and family in this difficult time.
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COVID-19 IN LONDON
Since the last edition and according to reports this morning, 1,950 people have tested positive for the coronavirus in the UK as a whole and the virus is believed to have caused 70 deaths – with a significant concentration in the capital.
While the sheer pace of developments makes it difficult for us to provide a 100% up-to-date summary, related news specific to London includes the following:
- On Monday, the Mayor of London was finally invited to attend the Government’s COBRA meeting, issued a statement on the escalation measures announced that evening, and convened an emergency meeting of business leaders.
- Khan has also popped up on LBC, Good Morning Britain, Sky News and elsewhere in the media, broadly backing the Government’s approach to tackling the virus and warning that TfL services must continue to enable key workers’ access to their workplace, but will be gradually restricted this week (more on TfL below).
- Only today, the Mayor pledged to support a new emergency support fund to help London’s community and voluntary organisations cope with the impact of the coronavirus, joining City Bridge Trust and London Funders, to launch a new fund – with an initial £1m provided by City Hall and £1m from City Bridge Trust.
- Yesterday, Commissioner Cressida Dick issued an announcement to remind Londoners that the Metropolitan Police is still very much on the beat and will continue to deliver its crucial services following the outbreak of COVID-19.
- London Councils, the association of the capital’s 33 local authorities, has called for more Government support to ‘relieve financial pressures on businesses and avoid mass closures and job losses’, matching this with a decision to suspend enforcement of the London Lorry Control Scheme with immediate effect ‘to help the freight and logistics industry cope with increasing pressures and demands.’
- Individual boroughs are also moving fast to adapt to circumstances. Indicatively, the City of London Corporation has issued a press release laying out its priorities and changing work patterns, Greenwich Council is postponing public meetings and a by-election scheduled for 3 April, and Westminster Council has postponed or cancelled a number of committee meetings next week.
- Meanwhile, while many public events continued in the first half of this week, more are being cancelled by the day, including the St. Patrick’s Day festival and parade, which were scheduled for Sunday – and the Mayor has confirmed UEFA's decision to postpone the Men's EURO tournament to 2021.
- Furthermore, following Government advice that all people stay at home if they can, multiple – though not yet all – London cultural venues have voluntarily shut down until further notice, including 50+ theatres as reported by The Guardian, the Tate, V&A and Natural History Museum as per the BBC, the Barbican and others.
- Even Eastenders, that living monument to life in East London, has been affected, with BBC announcing that it will be suspending filming for the series until further notice due to the coronavirus outbreak.
- Meanwhile, the Standard is among media reporting that the Government may ‘order a ‘harder’ London-specific clampdown soon on socialising to limit deaths from a looming surge in coronavirus cases’ amid increasing unease about the effectiveness of measures taken to date.
- Indeed, only minutes before this edition of LDN went live, it was announced by the Prime Minister that schools across the entirety of the UK are to shut from Friday.
Finally, as readers of LDN will certainly already be aware, this May’s London Mayoral and Assembly elections have been postponed for a full 12 months, following concerns that they would coincide with the peak of the COVID-19 outbreak. Read on for more on this.
BUT WHAT ABOUT TfL?
Social distancing and self-isolation measures have put further pressure on TfL’s already struggling finances – and as noted above, the Mayor has confirmed that TfL services will first be reduced to ‘Saturday-type service’ and may well then be reduced further.
- According to figures published a few days ago, weekly Tube passenger numbers are down by 19% and bus passenger numbers by 10% compared to this time last year and these figures are likely to diverge further as more and more people stay at home, something which TfL has said could lead to a loss of £500m – and TfL has been very open about the significant financial impact of the outbreak.
- Meanwhile, just before the postponement of the Mayoral and Assembly elections, Khan said that if re-elected, his popular TfL (partial) fares freeze would be (partly) scrapped. He pledged that bus fares would be frozen and the ‘Hopper’ fare retained, but admitted that fares for the Underground, Overground and DLR would have to rise in line with inflation.
- The coronavirus outbreak has only compounded existing pressures on TfL’s finances, not least of which is the delayed delivery of Crossrail’s central section. The Mayor has this week said that he is seeking to renegotiate a £2bn loan from the Government to cover Crossrail's costs, to secure a further £650m of funding. The cost of the project has risen from £14.8bn in 2010 to its current cost of £18.25bn.
- There is, however, one bit of good news for London’s creaking public transport system: Trade unions who had been planning strikes on the TfL network in the coming weeks have postponed industrial action indefinitely. Members of the Aslef union last week voted almost 9 to 1 (on a 70% turnout) to strike over pay, but the union has since said that it is ‘right’ to suspend the action in light of the COVID-19 outbreak to ensure that those who rely on the Tube, including NHS employees and other public servants, are able to get to work.
PETER JOHN STAYS ON
TfL’s predicament is a reminder that aside from the NHS, other frontline public services are facing unimaginable strains – in particular, local government, which oversees social care, state schools and waste collection services, amongst many many other key services. With that in mind, we were reassured to hear that Southwark Leader and Chair of London Councils Peter John has agreed to remain in post until further notice, despite having previously decided to step down later this month. With London facing huge challenges, we are fortunate to have experienced municipal and civic leaders to call on. So do spare a thought for the thousands of elected Councillors, local government officials and community volunteers across Greater London’s 33 local authorities, who are working day and night to help Londoners – and especially the most vulnerable among us – through this.
It is worth noting here, for LDN readers actively involved in local government in any capacity, that:
- the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) has issued new guidance for councils
- the Local Government Association (LGA) is keeping up a steady stream of guidance and advice on its website
- and the Local Government Information Unit (LGiU) has made all COVID-19 briefings available to Members and Followers free of charge
JENRICK SAYS NO
In the midst of all the above, Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick has issued his verdict on the Mayor’s Intend to Publish draft of the new London Plan. In a strongly-worded letter (variously described as ‘scathing’, ‘excoriating’ and ‘damning’ by commentators) to Sadiq Khan, Jenrick has directed that the Plan cannot be adopted until changes are made. His letter also issues an all-out assault on Khan’s record as Mayor, accusing him of (among other things) overseeing ‘deeply disappointing’ housing delivery that has ‘led to worsening affordability’, and the ‘stalling’ of development on strategic sites such as the OPDC. Adding insult to injury, Jenrick also demands that City Hall submit to increased central government oversight.
The specific policy changes commanded by Jenrick are listed here. Some, such as the softening of protections for Green Belt and Metropolitan Land, align with previous recommendations from the Plan’s Inspectors. However, the Secretary of State has notably chosen not to force changes to the Mayor’s aviation policy, which seeks to stymie the now-stalled Heathrow Expansion project. City Hall doth protest that the Government is ‘running roughshod’ over its painstakingly crafted Plan. But it has not, to date, provided any hints as to whether it will make all changes as directed, attempt to negotiate some points, or even somehow challenge the Secretary of State. That choice will, in turn, influence the Plan’s adoption timetable, which is now more uncertain than ever.
The elections set to take place on 7 May across 118 local councils in England, for seven regional mayors, plus Police and Crime Commissioner elections in England and Wales, have been postponed for one year due to the spread of coronavirus.
This decision follows a request by the Electoral Commission to delay the elections until Autumn. According to Downing Street, it would be impossible to hold the elections as they would have occurred in the month in which the spread of the virus was expected to peak. That of course means that London’s Mayoral and Assembly Elections are also off, with the candidates taking this development in stride.
Incumbent Mayor of London Sadiq Khan has said that he will continue to work with the government and experts to help London manage in the face of the pandemic, tweeting ‘I will do everything in my power to stand up for London.’ Independent candidate Rory Stewart, who had been calling for more draconian measures to be taken by the government, naturally welcomed the decision, while Conservative candidate Shaun Bailey said that the decision ‘would have been made in accordance with expert counsel and guidance’. Liberal Democrat candidate Siobhan Benita said that ‘unprecedented times require unprecedented action’ and has offered her personal and party support to Sadiq Khan over the coming months, while Green candidate Sian Berry has said the decision to postpone the election is ‘the right one’.
SO... WHAT NOW?
What all the above means for the London Assembly and City Hall – and for the campaigns of the various candidates – is still largely uncertain. So far, all candidates have said they still intend to stand in 2021. Meanwhile, 10 out of the 25 sitting London Assembly members had planned to stand down at the May elections, but it is now expected that most will continue in their positions for another year. There are two possible exceptions we are aware of. One is Londonwide Labour AM Tom Copley, who will stand down as planned in a few days, in order to focus on his role as Deputy Mayor for Housing, and cede his place to Murad Qureshi, the highest-placed unsuccessful Labour Assembly list candidate in 2016 (and a former AM himself). Similarly, we understand Londonwide Labour AM Fiona Twycross is to be replaced on the Assembly by another list runner-up, Barnet Councillor Alison Moore. Twycross should, however, carry on for the foreseeable future as Deputy Mayor for Fire and Resilience.
While this will be our last dedicated London Elections section this year (to be revived early in 2021), we will continue to bring you all the latest news from a campaign trail which has suddenly shifted pace from a sprint… to a marathon.
JENRICK'S PLANNING FIELD DAY
Following the announcements made by Chancellor Rishi Sunak in last week’s Budget, Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government Robert Jenrick began to outline the Government’s proposed reforms to the planning system. Planning for the future sets out some of the proposed measures designed to increase the delivery of new homes and ‘bring Britain’s planning system into the 21st century’. These include various initiatives to encourage housebuilding by local authorities, including the creation of a brownfield register to highlight sites where homes can be delivered, as well as the requirement that all local authorities have ‘up to date Local Plans in place by December 2023’. Controversially, the proposals also include the extension of permitted development rights (PDR), facilitating the demolition of vacant buildings and their replacement without going through the ‘lengthy planning process’. In a statement to the Commons, Jenrick said that the Government would also soon be bringing forward the Building Safety Bill and Renters Reform Bill as well as the Planning White Paper ‘in the spring’.
THE BRIDGE THAT KEEPS ON GIVING
For a city straddling a great big river, bridges – whether real or imaginary – will unavoidably be an abiding obsession. The seemingly never-ending drama surrounding the aborted Garden Bridge scheme, dreamt up during Boris Johnson’s Mayoralty and scuppered early in Sadiq Khan’s, is potentially one of Londoners’ favourites. In the latest episode, the Department for Transport (DfT) has reportedly refused to publish a damning internal report on the project following a Freedom of Information (FOI) request, on the basis that doing so would prejudice the commercial interests of the trust set up to develop it. As highlighted by an amused Jon Snow, this is despite the Garden Bridge Trust having been in the process of liquidation since last April. As ever, the Architects’ Journal has the scoop.
Separately, the London Assembly’s Garden Bridge Working Group has written to TfL Commissioner Mike Brown to ‘reiterate its concerns with TfL’s processes’ alleging that these have changed little since the Garden Bridge debacle.
The UK is ‘on the cusp of a transport revolution’ according to Transport Secretary Grant Shapps, who has announced the launch of a new DfT consultation on 16 March on how to make journeys ‘easier, smarter and greener’. As part of this, the Government will be consulting on how electric scooters could be trialled safely, and the DfT is set to legalise their use following trials. Though technically unlawful, e-scooters are already in widespread use and this move follows a number of accidents (some fatal) and calls to regulate their use. Looking ahead, there is still much leg-work to be done, including the amendment of national legislation, meaning it could be up to several months before the use of e-scooters is formally legalised.
PASSING THE BATON
Our very own Chairman, Robert Gordon Clark, has stepped down as Chair of the Mayor’s Thames Festival Trust after six years in post. Robert took over in 2013 from Sir Simon Hughes, when the Festival was still a weekend event on the South Bank. Totally Thames is now a month-long programme of events engaging many of London’s riparian authorities, cultural, heritage and river related bodies. Stephen Warrington, who has served for five years on the Trust, replaces him.
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LDN is put together by a dedicated team at London Communications Agency. The content for each edition is developed from news drawn from the last week from every London local paper as well as the regional and national press, from intelligence gathered by monitoring local, regional and national government activity and from the insight and expert knowledge of the entire LCA team.
If you would like to know more about anything covered in this or any other edition of LDN or if you would like to know more about LCA please contact Duncan Hepburn on 020 7612 8480 or email@example.com.
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